EvidenceProf Blog

Editor: Colin Miller
Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

Monday, August 20, 2018

My Updated Likeliest Scenarios for the Death of Hae Min Lee

Tomorrow is the due date for the State's initial brief to the Court of Appeals of Maryland in the Adnan Syed case. The defense's first brief is due about a month later, on September 20th, oral arguments will be held in late November or early December, and we'll have the final ruling from Maryland's highest court about a year from now or earlier. In other words, we're reaching the home stretch of the appeal...and that has me thinking back to my overall theory of what actually happened to Hae Min Lee. It's hard to believe that it's been almost four years since the final episode of Serial, Season One aired. That same day, I posted my most logical scenarios for the death of Hae Min Lee, and I find that little has changed in terms of the big picture.

I still believe that (1) Adnan asked Hae for a ride on the morning of January 13, 1999; (2) Hae initially agreed to give Adnan a ride; (3) someone else got Hae to change her plans before the end of school; and (4) Hae told Adnan at/right after the end of school that she could no longer give him a ride because something had come up and she had "something else" to do. This last event was initially reported by Becky, and Adnan and Hae's friend Krista later reported to me that Aisha said something similar  on the night of January 13th about Hae telling Adnan she couldn't give him a ride because "something came up."

Assuming that 1-4 are true, the question then becomes (a) did Hae in fact leave Woodlawn right after school to meet up with the person who got her to change her plans; or (b) did Adnan ultimately convince Hae to give him a ride? In situation (a), the person who got Hae to change her plans was very likely her killer. And, in situation (b), Adnan was very likely her killer. Based on all of my work on the case over the past four years, I think that (a) is clearly the likeliest scenario.

The biggest question mark in this whole case is Jay. If you think Jay killed Hae, the legitimate question often asked is how Adnan can be innocent when Adnan spent a good deal of the day with Jay and loaned him his car. And, if you think Jay was completely uninvolved, the legitimate question is how Jay knew the location of Hae's car. There are certainly answers to both questions, which have been discussed both here and on Undisclosed, but these are legitimate questions nonetheless.

But what if there were a scenario which removed any questions from the equation and would seemingly fully explain all of the aspects of the case? This is the scenario I've been mulling for a while.

This scenario is quite simple. It consists of 1-4 above, with the person getting Hae to change her plans being a current Woodlawn student or a recent Woodlawn graduate. This person was not Jay, but (s)he was someone known to Jay and Jenn (both recent Woodlawn graduates). It seems pretty plausible that this person would have ties to Woodlawn...because who was likely to get Hae to change her plans? I assume family, friends, or boyfriend. We have no reason to believe that anyone in Hae's family would have harmed her, and I honestly haven't gone down the Don wormhole enough to have an opinion on him. That leaves friends, and, simply put, most high schooler's friends are people they know from high school.

We know that Hae typically left Woodlawn at about 3:00 P.M. to pick up her cousin from Campfield at about 3:15 P.M., and we have multiple witnesses (Becky and Inez*) saying Hae left school in a hurry on January 13th right after the final bell. So, in this scenario, Hae is likely taking a quick sojourn to meet someone relatively close to both Woodlawn and Campfield before picking up her cousin. And, in this scenario, the meeting goes horribly wrong, leading to Hae's death.

Where's Jay during this time? Maybe he's still at Jenn's house when Hae is killed. Maybe he goes to a pool hall. Maybe he goes to Best Buy. Maybe he goes to Woodlawn to see Stephanie. Maybe he hangs out with Adnan. In this scenario, Jay could be doing anything other than killing Hae.

And where's Adnan during this time? Who knows? Maybe he sees Asia at the library. Maybe he sees Debbie outside the guidance counselor's office. Maybe he remains at school and sees neither Asia nor Debbie. Maybe Jay picks him up from school. And maybe while he's with Jay, Adnan gives Nisha a call. Again, Adnan could be doing anything other than killing Hae.

Eventually, Adnan arrives at track between 3:30 P.M. and 4:00 P.M. for the start of track practice, with Coach Sye stretching with him and initiating a conversation about Jay Adnan leading prayers for Ramadan.** When Adnan is done with track practice, he calls Jay, who picks him up, with Adnan proceeding to smoke a blunt. The two then hang out for a while, possibly going to Cathy's place.*** Adnan and Jay hang out past the start of prayers at Ramadan so Adnan can get rid of his high. The 7:09 and 7:16 P.M. calls happen while there are driving near (but not in) Leakin Park, possibly as they drive by Patrick's house. Soon after 8:05 P.M., Adnan drops Jay off at the mall or Jay's place, with Jay meeting up with Jenn. And...that's it for Adnan and Jay/Jenn. Adnan heads to the mosque where he practices his prayers with Bilal. At this point, Adnan, Jay, and Jenn have had nothing to do with the death of Hae Min Lee.

Returning back to the killing, we know from the lividity evidence that Hae was face down for about 8-12 hours after her death. Assuming the killing took place between 2:30 and 3:15 P.M., this means that Hae was moved to Leakin Park at 10:30-11:15 P.M. at the earliest. This is where Jay and Jenn come into play. They come into contact with the killer. And, whether due to money, fear, or friendship, they agree to help the killer with burying Hae in Leakin Park, with the burial taking place later than argued at trial, consistent with Jay's Intercept interview.

I'm not sure I believe this scenario more than the "completely uninvolved Jay" scenario, but it presents some advantages over both that scenario and a "guilty Jay" scenario. Namely:

1. It completely eliminates the question of how Jay knew the location of Hae's car. In this scenario, Jay was involved in the burial;

2. It explains why Jenn admits to involvement in the case. A "completely innocent Jay" likely means a "completely innocent Jenn." In this scenario, Jenn is actually downplaying her involvement;

3. While I don't think The Nisha Call happened on January 13th, this scenario makes that call much less meaningful. Maybe Adnan hung out with Jay before track practice and called Nisha and later denied these facts because he didn't want to admit to being with the person who was falsely claiming he killed Hae;

4. Those who think Adnan is guilty try to explain away Jay's inconsistencies as Jay trying to protect others or downplay his role in the killing.  But...how does that explain inconsistencies with regard to the events after the killing is done? Jay has Adnan dropping him off at home, with Jenn picking him up later, while Jenn has Adnan dropping Jay off with her at the mall. Jenn has Jay and he going to her sorority house/her friend Mike's birthday at UMBC while Jay never mentions these events. Jay has himself disposing of everything in a dumpster on the night of the 13th. Jenn has Jay dumping his clothes in a dumpster the next day. These inconsistencies or lies make a lot of sense if we assume Jay and Jenn are involved in wrongdoing that night as opposed to during the day; and

5. I think that any information that Jay and Jenn have about the crime and the crime scene could have come from the news and/or the police. But, to the extent you think they know things they shouldn't know, their involvement in the burial would explain this knowledge.

So, breaking this all down: The police (logically) see Adnan as a suspect because he's the ex-boyfriend who asked Hae for a ride on the morning of January 13th. The police later get Adnan's call log and saw (1) the call to Jay in the morning; (2) the "Leakin Park pings;" and (3) the bookending calls to Jenn at 7:00, 8:04 and 8:05 P.M. They develop the theory that Adnan killed Hae and got help with her burial from Jenn and/or Jay. When the police approach Jenn and Jay (in whatever order), Jenn and Jay see a chance to minimize their responsibility and protect the real killer (whether due to friendship, fear, etc.) by going along the police's theory and pinning the crime on Adnan.

But what you end up with is Jay's story during the day not making sense and conflicting with Adnan's track alibi because Adnan is innocent. And what you also get is Jay and Jenn completely contradicting one another about the events on the evening of January 13th because they're covering up their involvement in the burial.

I'm not sure whether this scenario is more plausible then the "completely uninvolved Jay" scenario, but it seemingly avoids many or all of the questions raised by the case. The only question is which Woodlawn student or graduate might have killed Hae?

Or at least that's what I think. I'd be interested in readers' thoughts in the comments section.


*Who may have the wrong day or be confabulating multiple days. 

**Adnan could also be late to track practice in this scenario, and it wouldn't matter.

***I still doubt this happened on January 13th, but we can assume that they went there without any impact on this scenario.



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It's interesting to think of it like that, but after listening to the Jay episodes multiple times on Undisclosed, all of his knowledge really can be explained away and it seems likely the cops knew where the car was since the plate had been ran in Baltimore County and it appeared to be moved.

Posted by: Nika | Aug 20, 2018 6:00:39 AM


Posted by: John Smith | Aug 20, 2018 7:19:55 AM

Why haven’t you looked into Don more? I think the answers would be clearer if you did.

Posted by: Shelly Jones | Aug 20, 2018 8:28:19 AM

Jay could have easily seen Hae’s car in his passing or had the information given to him by a friend, polices, etc. Knowing the location of the car doesn’t prove anything.

Posted by: Dapo | Aug 20, 2018 10:46:17 AM

I think you should take a walk down into that don wormhole. Jay is like the lady in this season of undisclosed who said the killer shot at her, in my opinion. Involving himself because of a desire to be important and/or pressure from law enforcement. Don just slipped on by.

Posted by: Jeff | Aug 20, 2018 1:03:59 PM

I can't shake the feeling that the police so thoroughly tainted the case that any details from Jay and Jenn's stories have to be set aside and the case rethought almost from scratch. It seems just as likely to be a former/current Woodlawn student as it is to be Don or a family member, or possibly even a complete stranger (although Hae's sudden change in plans would seem to reduce the likelihood of this).

Posted by: Clayton | Aug 20, 2018 2:29:54 PM

I don't think Jay or Jenn had anything to do with the killing or burial. I think Jay knew where the car was because the police told him. I think Adnan gave Jay his car/phone that day to get weed (the Stephanie present thing was made up at the time because they didn't want to admit the real reason for the borrowing). Anyway when Jay was questioned he was also nervous about getting caught distributing weed (didn't want to get his grandma in trouble) so he went along with the police theory about Adnan, having no idea it would escalate as it did with Adnan being convicted of murder. He didn't mean to rat Adnan out but as he kept making up story after story so as not to get busted for drugs, he just got in over his head. Jenn agreed with him to help him corroborate his story because she was his friend. And the longer time that passed, Jay couldn't change his story without looking like he was involved in some way. I don't have a good feeling about Don. Hae would have had to be really excited to see whoever she went to meet that day since she really didn't have much time before she had to get her cousin. She was head over heels for Don.
The time card discrepancies and the fact that Don led police off the trail saying Hae probably went to be with her dad in California make him suspicious to me. Are there any problems with this theory? And are we any closer to figuring out the diamond shaped patterns on Hae's neck? Still keeps me up at night. Would love to hear feedback.

Posted by: gina | Aug 20, 2018 2:51:46 PM

As a former high school teacher in a school with a similar socio-economic makeup I think it’s important not to rule out teachers and other staff at Woodlawn as possible subjects. From my experience teaching in a neighboring area it is not uncommon for teachers and students to be romantically involved and/ inappropriately involved (supply drugs, etc) with students.

Posted by: Kris | Aug 20, 2018 8:07:38 PM

In Jay's intercept interview, he says:
"I was talking to one of my friends, who had just recently gotten over a drug addiction, who [SK] tried to talk to about this case. He told me it was really painful for him, and he didn’t want to go back and revisit this crap."....which is interesting, in that it would seem that Jay has a friend who has a connection to Hae?

Also, in the deep recesses of reddit lies this post: https://www.reddit.com/r/serialpodcast/comments/2slpba/didnt_stephanie_get_married_in_college/ which both references drug addiction and states that the poster seems to know that Steph is fully aware of Adnan's innocence (?!)

Posted by: ndnan | Aug 21, 2018 6:15:32 AM

I really like Don for the murder. His mother hiding his absence from work is a big tell.

Posted by: Linnette Garber | Aug 21, 2018 6:22:40 AM

What about Mr S? Since the body was so well hidden, do you think he may have known something/been involved? It didn't seem like he just "stumbled" upon the body. And what about the serial killer who had just recently been released from prison?

Posted by: Ginger | Aug 21, 2018 8:21:17 AM

"...someone else got Hae to change her plans before the end of school" How do we know this for certain. Maybe Hae changed her mind all on her own. And this crime was random.

Posted by: Jane | Aug 21, 2018 11:25:43 AM

I think the murderer of the other Woodlawn student is the most likely killer of Hae. Hae drove the same route as the other victim and used the ATM close to where the killer lived at the time . We know she needed to deposit her check. Her change of plan could have been a mere coincidence.

Posted by: Ann | Aug 21, 2018 12:41:17 PM

I just remember back to serial when Sarah when to talk to Jay. I'm not sure if Sarah said she didn't junk Adnan did it - but Jay had said "well who else could it be?"
It's almost like Jay was asking himself the question also. Just still gets to me. i don't think Jay had anything to do with it.

Posted by: Kirra | Aug 21, 2018 2:03:51 PM

I’ve had a theory I’ve kicked around for a while that is very similar, I’d be interested in your thoughts…

What if someone more crime-connected in Jays family needed a car. Wanting to score points with them, Jay arranges to borrow Adnan’s car for them (with or without Adnan’s knowledge). Then Hae sees Adnan’s car with a stranger driving, assumes it’s stolen, confronts them and is killed. Then the killer leans on Jay to help dispose of the body.

This explains a few things for me. The calls from the mobile to Jenn’s house while Jay was there. The call to the mobile phone that was answered by a strange voice not Adnan or Jay. Why Jay was so afraid and so determined to this day to stick with the spine of his story. It could also explain why the “trunk pop” would have happened outside Jay’s grandmas house as he said in the Intercept video if that was the house where the drug operation operated out of.

Posted by: RB | Aug 21, 2018 10:00:53 PM

Nika: Agreed that all of Jay’s knowledge can be explained away. Under this theory, though, we don’t even need an explanation.

John Smith: Thanks.

Shelly Jones & Jeff & gina & Linette: He’s not pertinent to the current appeal, so I haven’t really focused on him.

Dapo: Agreed. These are all plausible scenarios.

Clayton: Agreed. The investigation was so mishandled that it’s tough to trust anything in this case.

Kris: Fair point.

ndnan: Thanks. I had forgotten about that comment. Very interesting.

Ginger: I definitely think the police should have done more investigation of Mr. S.

Jane: According to Krista, Aisha heard Hae say that “something came up.” This would imply that someone changed Hae’s plans as opposed to Hae just changing her mind.

Ann: That’s definitely a possibility and would be a clear “completely uninvolved Jay” scenario.

Kirra: Definitely a possibility.

RB: The theories about Hae seeing Adnan’s car are interesting. I’d have to think through them some more.

Posted by: Colin Miller | Aug 22, 2018 5:14:43 AM

From the beginning I have felt they should have investigated Stephanie more. She had a roll in this entire scheme, yet seemed like no one wanted to get her involved. Jealousy is a real game changer. He

Posted by: Dez | Aug 22, 2018 3:01:12 PM

So, the most likely scenario is that someone other than Adnan met up with Hae after school even though you concede that Adnan asked for a ride, you concede that Hae agreed to the ride, and per the police report from prior to this being a murder investigation, Adnan believed that Hae was still going to give him a ride?

Posted by: Really Collin? | Aug 23, 2018 2:23:41 PM

Dez: I don't think she had any involvement.

Really Colin?: I believe Becky/Krista/Aisha about something coming up for Hae that caused Hae to change her plans. I don't think Adcock's notes are 100% accurate.

Posted by: Colin Miller | Aug 23, 2018 5:09:20 PM

Let's assume arguendo that Adcock's notes are accurate with respect to what Adnan told him on the day of Hae's disappearance. Under your reasoning as set out in the blog above, would you agree that that would make Adnan the most likely suspect?

Can you explain why you don't consider Adcock's notes 100% accurate?

Posted by: Really Collin? | Aug 24, 2018 4:48:59 AM

It is equally likely that Don caused Hae to change her plans. Bob Ruff has adequately proven that NO ONE investigated Don’s alibi for the time of Hae’s death until he did so himself. Thus, either theory is plausible at this point.

Posted by: Megan Pawlak | Aug 24, 2018 6:57:22 AM

Don killed Hae on Wednesday, Jan 13th. He kept her hidden somewhere for 2 days (snow storm shut everything down) then he spent the full day Saturday driving around to bury her, finally deciding on Leakin Park. Why else would he falsify his hours on both those days???

Posted by: Jason Y | Aug 24, 2018 8:27:19 AM

Really Collin?: Let’s break everything down. In her police statement, Becky says she saw Hae tell Adnan that she could no longer give him a ride because she had “something else” to do. At trial, Becky testifies that she saw Hae right after school, with Hae telling her that she had leave right away because there was somewhere she needed to be (no mention of Adnan). According to Krista, Aisha told her on the night of January 13th that she saw Hae tell Adnan at the end of class or right after class that she couldn’t give Adnan a ride because “something came up.” In his police report, Adcock wrote that Hae was “suppose to give him a ride home, after school, but he was running late and he felt that victim Lee probably left after waiting a short while.”

Now, first, why do I question that this was exactly what Adnan told Adcock? Adcock writes that Adnan said Hae was “suppose to give him a ride home,” which doesn’t really match what people said about the ride request. Second, I think it’s perfectly plausible that Becky’s trial testimony and that Becky and/or Aisha heard that Hae changed her plans but that Adnan didn’t hear that information. This would perfectly explain what Adcock reported. Third, it’s easy to synch what Adcock reported and what Becky and Aisha said. Maybe Adnan had already made Hae wait a few minutes when Becky/Aisha saw her and/or maybe Adnan had something else he had to do (like go to the guidance counselor’s office) before he could leave. So, when Hae said she had something else to do, he figured it was because he was running late.

Fourth, Adcock’s report can be completely accurate and Adnan (who most agreed was stoned that night) might simply have misheard Hae, misremembered exactly what Hae said, or misreported it to Adcock. Fifth, Adnan might have simply been responding to what Adcock said. I forget now, but isn’t the thinking or evidence that Adcock talked with Krista or Aisha before talking with Adnan? So, Adcock might have heard something from Krista, who heard something from Aisha, who heard something from Hae and gotten things a little twisted around and said, “So is it right that Hae was supposed to give you a ride but ended up having to leave without you,” and Adnan might have responded with, “Yes.”

Now, is it possible that nothing like what Becky/Aisha/Krista said happened at/after the end of school? Sure, but those are the very same witnesses the State used to establish there was a ride request in the first place, so if they’re remembering the wrong day, the State has even bigger problems.

Megan and Jason Y: Again, I haven’t gone down that rabbit hole (yet).

Posted by: Colin Miller | Aug 24, 2018 9:17:46 AM

Do you intend to go down 'that [Don] rabbit hole'?

Posted by: Cupcake | Aug 25, 2018 10:20:27 AM

For me it's clear we'll never know the truth with the information that is public without a decent new police investigation. I guess that will only be possible after Adnan is released in a new trial.
Jay needs to be forced to come up with the real truth. That truth will either be that he knows the real killer and he's afraid of him/her or he doesn't know the real killer but he has been pressured by the police to corroborate their story.
Don needs some serious investigation too, he either is the killer or he was afraid to be seen as the killer. It's clear he has been tampering with the time sheets and that must have a reason ofc.
Colin, one big question for you. Rabia once posted to be 100% sure she knows her real killer. Since you are working together closely with her, I assume you know that name. Do you agree with her theory or not ?

Posted by: Peter M | Aug 26, 2018 11:03:09 AM

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